I’ve said this in every blog post, but we’ve lived a million lifetimes in Ecuador.
At the very least, we’ve lived three different lives: the city, the rainforest, and finally, the coast. Day 11 was the kickoff to our final leg of our Ecuadorian country tour. After the unexpected mudslide caused us to miss our flight, we arrived at the Cabañas El Manglar around 7:30 in a town called Las Tunas, outside of Puerto López.
During Days 11 and 12, we spent our days exploring the various nature wonders of the Parque Nacional Machalilla. It felt as though we were in another world compared to our previous week in the Amazon. No more mud, bugs, and wet leaves. Instead we find twigs, dry forest, blue-footed boobies, and beautiful white beaches. For me, the highlight of the Machalilla National Park was the hour boat ride out to the Isla de la Plata, named after the highly visible, prolific, silver-looking patches of… bird poop! Check out these boobies!
During the night time, we drove from Las Tunas to explore the town of Puerto López. This town was definitely one of my favorite spots on the trip for a personal reason: it felt very nostalgic. For reference, I am of Filipino descent. I have been again and again shocked by many of the personal connections I’ve felt with how much of the culture and characteristics are similar to my family’s homeland. I have not been back to the Philippines since I was 8 years old, but many of the sights, foods, and more have reminded me of that last visitation. I’ve always heard that many Latin American countries share characteristics with the Philippines due to the shared Spanish colonization, but it was another feeling to see it in person. Especially with how far the two countries are, it is really shocking to witness the effects of globalization from centuries ago still hold effect today.
On our last day (Day 13!), we departed from Las Tunas to the Guayaquil airport for our final travel, back home to the United States! On the way, we stopped at our last and my favorite site visit, the Hacienda Victoria. They had the best and most unique presentation by far. At this point in the trip, I was ready to make it home but I was incredibly engaged in the great work done at the Hacienda. We learned a lot more in-depth about various aspects of chocolate and what makes cacao unique in Ecuador, including the cacao nacional which is 50% of Ecuadorian chocolate. We learned new information about the history of chocolate in Ecuador, including a man named Homero Castro, who crossbred cacao many times and went through lots of trial and error to create a strain of chocolate that was incredibly consistent and resistant to disease. However, this created the chocolate to lose flavor and uniqueness. Today, lots of work and research is done in the cacao industry including at Hacienda Victoria to grow chocolate that is still consistent and resistant to disease, while still holding many of the flavors and refined notes that make cacao nacional unique.
The past two weeks have been incredibly enriching and impactful. I had lots of expectations going into this program, and all of them have not only been met, but blown out of the water. It’s quite cliché, but I wouldn’t trade this experience for the world. Maybe for a good bar of chocolate..?